December 9, 2018
Christmas Chaos – Luke 1 – 12.9.18
I want to begin our time this morning talking about Christmas traditions. What are some of the traditions that are important to you and your family that get you ready for the holidays? What things do you do to celebrate the season? I remember first thinking about this in my life when my high school band teacher passed out a piece of music for our holiday concert one year entitled Traditions of Christmas. It was one of those instrumental Manneheim Steamroller Christmas songs-and it had a nice trumpet part to it-but the title of the song got me thinking about the Christmas traditions I was used to in my family. And of course we would always watch our favorite Christmas movies-Home Alone and A Christmas Story with my dad quoting lines. We would always go to Christmas Eve service at church. But really the main tradition was quickly opening our presents Christmas morning so we could pile into the car and make the 5 hour drive to Chicago to see all my relatives. But what are your Christmas traditions? What are the things you do-whether on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve or even earlier in December-that makes the season special? Maybe it’s when you go Christmas shopping together with your family or when everyone gathers to decorate the house and hang up lights or maybe it’s when you have a big gathering to bake a bunch of Christmas cookies. Obviously since moving to Long Island, Monica and I are establishing some new Christmas traditions with our family-and one of them was going to a tree farm last weekend to cut down our tree. Since there’s so many farms this seemed like a great idea. In fact, years ago when I was little I remember going to some tree farms with my family. So we did it-but here’s the thing about cutting down your own tree-you can’t bend down very well to cut it-especially when you have a really dull saw like I did. So before I knew it, I was laying on the wet, muddy ground sawing this tree with my dull saw. It was getting stuck in the trunk. It couldn’t cut this tree to save my life-and I was getting all tired and sweaty, my arms and shoulders were burning-I had to take my coat off. So I’m laying there on the ground without a coat huffing and puffing saying to Monica-What kind of Christmas tradition is this! But eventually my dull saw cut the tree down, we carried it back across the field-and now it’s up and decorated and looks beautiful-and I’ll probably forget all about it until next year when I find myself laying on the muddy ground of a tree farm thinking what in the world am I doing?
But hopefully you have some great Christmas traditions you enjoy that bring far warmer memories-and often traditions are so important for us that if we don’t do them or skip them we wonder how we can properly celebrate the holidays. Almost as if our traditions are a precursor that must take place-or else it just doesn’t feel like Christmas. But as we start off our Christmas series this year, let me suggest that Christmas isn’t primarily all the traditions-as important as they might be-instead Christmas is about believing and reflecting upon the historical report of what took place 2,000 years ago. That’s the essence of the holiday-and if we’re not careful the traditions can overtake it so that we lose sight of what we’re celebrating. I think the equivalent would be having Thanksgiving without turkey. You might have all the other dishes set out-the potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, carrots, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie-but if you don’t have any turkey something’s just not right. Likewise we can have all the traditions of Christmas-from the trees to the gifts to the parties to the decorations and ornaments and stockings hung over the fireplace-but if we don’t have Jesus something is missing. And that’s what we want to talk about over the next few weeks-a Christmas that isn’t less Jesus and more chaos with all of our holiday traditions, but a Christmas that is less chaos and more Jesus.
And to see that we’re going to begin in Luke 1-a chapter that throws a simple, everyday woman into a set of very chaotic circumstances. Look at how it unfolds-Luke 1:26-29. Now try to put yourself in Mary’s shoes. Here you are on a normal, average day, minding your own business when all of a sudden a visitor shows up to give you a message. But this isn’t just any visitor, it’s an otherworldly angelic visitor that’s not from planet earth or anywhere inside our universe, but has come from God’s presence in heaven. Now here’s Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting of this scene-Annunciation. If you’ve ever been to the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy you would have seen this. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork-but it makes it appear as if Mary’s interaction with an angel is nothing out of the ordinary. That here she is on lovely summer’s day sitting outside doing her reading when Gabriel shows up for a casual chat. We tend to think that angelic conversations are part of the normal routine for someone like Mary-and yet what did the text say? Back to v. 29. Mary is baffled, puzzled, confused-greatly troubled-by the angel’s appearance. This is not a simple thing-but something very unsettling for her. Much like it would be for you or me if an angel showed up this afternoon to talk with us. You’d wonder if you were seeing things or suffering from a hallucination. And once you accepted the reality of it-you’d probably be petrified or shaking in your boots wondering what the angel wants. Look at how Gabriel responds to Mary-v. 30. That’s a statement of God’s grace that Mary has received-it’s the same grace any of us have received as His followers. But Gabriel is confirming her fear in this moment. Now Mary will eventually come to a place of faith and acceptance-but it’s important to know where she started because that’s where a lot of us start with God. Fear and speculation and hesitation are often where we begin-especially when we consider the scope of His plan.
So in Mary’s response to chaos-Pt1:Skepticism-when God shows up unannounced to do something unheard of and new. And that’s often God’s way. All across the pages of Scripture He shows up unannounced to people with some really big plans. Think of Abraham minding his own business when God calls him to leave home and journey to a new, unknown land. Or when God calls to Moses from the burning bush to enter Egypt and free His people from Pharaoh, or when God calls out to Jonah and says head to Nineveh or when He calls to the disciples and says stop fishing by the shore and become fishers of men, or when He calls to Paul in a blinding light along the road to stop being His enemy and become His witness to the world. All these people had their moments of skepticism and fear. We saw back in the summer how Jonah tired running the opposite direction when God called him-or Moses tried to get his brother to do the job of freeing God’s people because he was so scared. And think back to your own life when God showed up and wanted to use you for His purposes. It was probably when you were least expecting it. There you were living life, doing whatever you were doing, when God appeared unannounced and said-I have some incredible plans for you-I want to use your life in a way you never would have imagined. Leave the familiar and the comfortable behind and come follow Me on a new journey. Because that’s what following God means-we’re all at this spot like Mary where God wants to turn our life upside down and do something incredible-and a lot of times we can only do what Mary did which is to simply trust Him despite our skepticism and fears. Look at how she responds to God’s plan-v. 30-34. Once again-Mary doesn’t just instantly accept this and say no problem. Granted, she’s not running away-but she’s questioning and trying to figure it out. Because this is incredible-that she’s going to bear God’s Son-the Son of the Most High-who will be the ruler of an eternal kingdom that will never end. These plans are nothing short of miraculous. I’m sure Mary said to the angel-come again, what did you just say-bear God’s Son? How is that even possible? And you could argue that God wanted to use Mary in a much greater way than he wants to use you or me in our ordinary lives. And yet the truth is that God calls each one of us to be a part of something eternal. He calls each one of us to help build this eternal kingdom that His Son is going to rule. Each one of us has a role to play, a part to do, ways we can serve. Each one of us are confronted with plans of an eternal scope when God shows up. And often skepticism and fear is where we begin-uncertainty and confusion are how we start-like Mary saying-God, how can this be, what are you trying to do, how can you possibly use someone like me in your plans? What makes me skeptical about God’s plans? How would you answer that? What part of God’s plan brings you confusion or fear?
That’s the issue Mary is wrestling with-and it’s quite logical because in light of conceiving and bearing God’s Son she’s a bit confused since she’s a virgin-which obviously doesn’t work too well with the normal child bearing processes. Lord, I don’t understand how your plan could happen. I’m not officially married yet or with my husband. I’m not sure I’m the right person you’re looking for? Maybe you got the wrong house or the angel got confused on where to go? That’s basically what Mary is suggesting-that she doesn’t seem like a good fit for God’s plan, that based on her spot in life someone else would be better suited. How can this be since I’m not the right one? Have you felt that way before in responding to God? I know I have. It’s easy to think there’s someone else out there who can accomplish God’s plans instead of us-or someone else who’s a better fit or will be more successful or get it done far easier. How will this be, Lord, since I’m… How would you finish that sentence? Since I’m not talented enough, not spiritual enough, I’m not a good speaker, or I’m not smart enough, or gifted enough. If we’re honest with ourselves we could all find some reason or excuse to put there-How will this be, Lord since I’m… And yet what does God say? Does He accept our reasons and retract His offer? You’re right-I did get the wrong person. Sorry to bother you-I realize you’re a bad fit. I messed up on that one-let me call somebody else who will be better. Not at all! God knows exactly what He’s doing when He shows up unannounced to call us to something unheard of and new. He’s God-and His plans are far more incredible than we could ever imagine. Look at how the angel goes on to communicate God’s plan to Mary-v. 35-37. And that’s the truth we’re called to believe-right there-that no matter how amazing or inconceivable it is-nothing is impossible with God.
The whole point of following Him is that He will call you to “impossible” things that you could never do in your own strength or effort. He doesn’t want you saying-I can handle that, no problem. He wants you saying-I can’t handle that, not at all-but I totally can with your help and your strength, Lord. It reminds me of Eph 3:20. That’s precisely the place God wants to take you-where you have to rely solely upon Him-and those abundant, impossible things happen as you surrender to Him. That was Mary’s response-v. 38. And did you notice what Mary didn’t say? She didn’t say-let it be to me according to my feelings, let it be to me according to whether I have peace about this. Because that’s how a lot of people operate and make decisions-whether they have a feeling of peace about something. And if they don’t feel a peace about it-they say sorry God I’m out. But I’m not sure God wants a feeling peace to dictate our obedience to Him. We just simply need to do what He says because He’s commanded it. Like Mary-let it be to me according to your word-according to what you have told me, not how I feel about it. Because I doubt Mary felt a sense of peace about all this. This was a very overwhelming, life-changing, reputation-affecting decision. Think about the chaos Mary is about to face.
Her life is totally turned upside down-all her plans and ideas for a normal life with her husband have been thrown into a mess because she has to somehow convince Joseph that she hasn’t been unfaithful to him even though it’s totally clear she’s pregnant. Joseph will literally see the evidence from Mary’s growing belly of what he would logically conclude was a bad decision on her part to cheat on him and get pregnant. Her betrothal and marriage to this man is going to be in complete jeopardy because most guys would say I’m out, this is too crazy for me to believe, this marriage is over. Not to mention her reputation in a traditional culture that would view a child of out wedlock as very shameful. Nazareth wasn’t a big place so the rumors would quickly spread as people connect the dotes thinking-you got married on this date, but the baby was born on this date. So Mary… By following God’s plan she’s going to face risk, misunderstanding, some hurtful gossip and lots of uncertainty. You can’t blame her for having some skepticism-it seems quite warranted-and yet skepticism isn’t where Mary stays because she takes that important step of surrender-let it be to me according to your word. And that’s the step we must take. Pt2:Surrender-when God calls us to trust Him-even when it’s scary. God doesn’t mind our questions, He’s okay with our doubts. He’s not against us having some skepticism-but He doesn’t want us to stay there. At some point He calls each of us to a place of surrender-where we say to Him-Lord, I don’t understand it all, I don’t see how all this is going to work out, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit scared-but I know that you’re in control, that your plans are always best and so I surrender to to you and I’m willing to go where you call me to go. Mary’s faith is simple surrender to God-and that’s where each of us can follow in her footsteps-Hidden Christmas, 93.
I find that really convicting-which is why I’ve passed the conviction on to all of us-but I’d sure like to think of my relationship with God as a negotiation instead of surrender! Wouldn’t you? I sure wish that there could be some give and take on either side of this. Okay, Lord, so I’ll follow you in these areas, I’ll obey this much, but over here is my stuff, here’s some things you can’t touch, some old habits and attitudes I don’t want you disturbing. And if you call me to give too much, sacrifice too much or put my reputation or comfort on the line-then forget it, I’m done! Isn’t that often how we think? We might not actually verbalize it to God but it’s how we feel. There’s some non-negotiables in our life, places where we refuse to budge or let God in. Ask yourself-Where am I refusing to surrender to God? What are the non-negotiables that you have-that ultimately need to be eliminated?
I like how Keller summarizes surrender as taking your hands off your life. We tend to think of the analogy of taking our hands off the wheel-as if we’re driving our car, steering it where we want to go and God needs us to let Him take over and do the driving. But I’m not sure a car is a very adequate analogy-because I don’t think we’re nearly in control as we like to think we are. Instead, I picture a roller coaster. Who takes their hands off the safety bar and holds them up on a roller coaster? Who grabs on for dear life and hangs tight? Who just refuses to ride roller coasters altogether? This past summer I rode the famous Cyclone rollercoaster at Coney Island-and I held on tight. When it said national landmark built in 1927 I probably should have had more faith in the construction of our forefathers and let go-but I grabbed that bar for dear life not sure what would happen to me. But the reality is that it didn’t make any difference. I was still going to go through all the twists and turns of that rollercoaster whether I held on or not. I wasn’t steering the ride. And we’re not steering our lives either. Any sort of control we think we have is just an illusion. God knows where He’s taking us. He’s got every twist and turn all mapped out, He knows what lies around the next corner or down the next hill-and He says-Let go, take your hands off your life, trust Me and surrender.
And what happens when we do? We don’t just get to experience the thrill of being on a rollercoaster, we get to experience the wonder and thrill of being a part of God’s eternal plan. This is what happened to Mary. After she surrenders to God and accepts this amazing, seemingly impossible truth; after she says let it be to me according to your word-her heart begins to overflow with wonder. Look at v. 39-45. I love that-blessed are you Mary, not for running away from this or trying to avoid it or fight it or pretend it isn’t happening-but blessed are you for believing that God’s word would be fulfilled. And so what does Mary say? This is her great hymn of praise to God. It’s known as the Magnificat-which is the Latin translation of that opening line-v. 46-53a. And this is Mary recognizing that very truth about herself; that God has filled her life with good things. She hasn’t accepted God’s plan of bearing His Son in a grumbling, begrudging, fine-if-you-say-so sort of way. Despite all the chaos and uncertainty of what might happen in her life and what other people might say or think about her-Mary has been caught up in the wonder of what God is doing. That’s the 3rd step-Pt3:Songs of Praise-when we’re filled with wonder at God’s grace. That’s what Mary’s saying in v. 49a. It wasn’t that Mary was thinking of all she was going to do for God-it was the reverse. He was the One blessing her. In Mary’s mind there couldn’t be any greater honor than serving God and being a part of His plan. That there is no one mightier or more exalted and worthy than God. He’s the One who made and created all things, the One who has always existed, will always exist, the One who does all things perfect and well, who knows all things, is in control of all things and is going to be at the center of all of heaven’s praise for all eternity-that’s how big and mighty God is! And in His grace He has stooped down to a simple ordinary woman like Mary-and blessed her. For Mary-it’s less chaos and more Jesus as she gets the privilege of bringing God’s Son into the world; of fulfilling the ancient prophecy-Isa 7:14. That is happening-and Mary is filled with the amazement and wonder of that fact.
And yet that same amazement and wonder should also characterize our lives. This same statement of Mary’s ought to be our statement-v. 49a. And why can we say that-because of this verse in Isaiah, because of this child, Immanuel who’s come. God is with us. The Mighty One in heaven didn’t leave us alone or forget about us. He didn’t decide to create another earth with better people and let us fall apart here. He didn’t let us die in our sins-even though He could have. Instead, in all His mightiness and grace God stooped down to us by taking on human flesh and being born by an earthly mother. He entered our condition, stepped into our world in order to pay for our sins and save us. You see when Mary says-He who is mighty has done great things for me-she didn’t truly see the depth of her words. She didn’t see what we get to see-and that’s the cross. The Mighty One of heaven, the Prince of Peace, the baby born in Bethlehem has done something incredibly great by giving up His life-it cost Him everything. And who did He do it for? As Mary says-for me. And that’s what you can say too. The Mighty One has done great things for me! He died so that you could be forgiven and dwell with Him forever. Last question to ponder-How am I filled with wonder at what God’s done for me? What is your song of praise?
As we’ve begun to celebrate this season of Christmas, as December is in full swing-don’t let the chaos of the traditions rush past you. Don’t let the chaos of the calendar or chaos of holiday hours at work or all the shopping and baking and decorating consume you. Instead, step away from the chaos and see Jesus. Like Mary-leave all the circumstances you can’t control with God and be filled with the wonder of who He is and the great things He’s done for you.